thoughts on science

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Christoph Cardinal Schönborn pens a very worthwhile article on science in our era. What is noteworthy is how he highlights that Science is speaking beyond itself in many cases, as both the creator and manager of modernity, thus little interested in moving past Positivism. As historians learned a number of years ago, infinitely complex systems are not able to be so easily reduced to sound bites. Thus a humility of perspective sets in which demands that the observer make sure not to go outside of the specific frame of reference.

Curiously, the Church has the same exact problem. It has made a recent history of taking infinitely complex realities and reducing them to broad rules and systematic order. It finally got around to answering modernity’s questions and now has little to say about the questions now being asked, where dualism is not a reality for many people.

I suspect if the Emerging Church ever itself emerges from an anti-establishment liturgical emphasis (called by a friend the seeming obsession with “vodka and oreos”) it will be in a very good position to respond to what is ultimately a pre-Augustinian revolution within the Church that does not separate reality. This is, I believe, the Jewish approach and also the Celtic approach.

It entails a reduction of the intellectualism that has manhandled the faith being replaced with a more lyrical appeal. This isn’t just musical, but lyrical throughout all the various disciplines, making a chorus from the cacophony. Note, that I don’t suggest an anti-intellectualism which raises ignorance as a spiritual quality, but rather a reduction of the insistence that present human reason can fully grasp the nature of God in this world. Modernity despises mystery. Science is the king of modernity so the mysteries which remain it seeks to speak about, even as it drifts in what it really knows. And in speaking from ignorance it has to assert Authority, much as the Church has done for centuries. “Trust us, we know better” both the public Scientist and the hierarchical Church leader have said.

There are other approaches, besided the purely Intellectual, which better address the veils of mystery, and which bypass the intellectual filters in order to best provoke this mystery within our souls. This state of things is likely at the heart of what New Testament scholar Peter Stuhlmacher said a few years ago, “The renewal of the church will not come from academia.”

Strangely, then, this leaves the battle between Faith and Science as argued in much of the Public Square a lot like the Battle of New Orleans. The real war is over, modernity is played out, but the dispatches haven’t gotten to the generals in the field quite yet.

That’s my thought on the subject, now the the significantly more erudite words of Christoph Cardinal Schönborn:

Today, spirit-matter dualism dominates Christian thinking about reality. By “spirit-matter dualism” I mean the habit of thought in which physical reality is conceived of according to the reductive claims of modern science (which is to say, positivism), combined in a mysterious way with a belief in the immaterial realities of the human and divine spirits as known only by faith (which is to say, fideism).

But human reason is much more than just positivistic “scientific” knowledge. Indeed, true science is impossible unless we first grasp the reality of natures and essences, the intelligible principles of the natural world. We can with much profit study nature using the tools and techniques of modern science. But let us never forget, as some modern scientists have forgotten, that the study of reality via reductive methods leads to incomplete knowledge.

Have a go at the Designs of Science.

3 Responses to “thoughts on science”

  1. Scaliant Says:

    Ah, yes. Haven’t yet had the stomach to read that article (… or indeed much of this month’s First Things, I’m afraid …) — after his less than fortuituous editorial in the NYT, I’m a little concerned about the ways in which the wind is blowing in my native realms.

  2. marie Says:

    Excellent commentary on the state of things within the realm of believers…
    I myself think that we have yet to explore the wondrous mystery of the Spirit and spirit realm;
    so much Wisdom available! But my contention is that purity of heart, mind and life produce a
    climate in which the Spirit is free to work unhindered. It isn’t legalism, it is rather a mindset and heartset
    that seeks to gratify the Spirit. The Spirit delves into the deeper things of God and surprises all of us
    with an astounding quality of grace. It seems to me that the Spirit adores the quality that could be
    characterized by a “great generosity of soul” and wholeheartedness. . .

  3. Schonborn Site Says:

    Anyone who is looking for more background information and analysis on Cardinal Schonborn’s contribution to this debate might be interested in the site/blog I run.